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Harry Garber's Citation for the Bronze Star

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Captain Albert E. Theberge for the NOAA Corps Bulletin

We've all heard of Kilroy. The original model for Kilroy was RADM Harry Garber. A quiet harry garber aboard the lydoniamodest man, Harry ranged from one end of the Pacific to the other over a career spanning 32 years. He saw a lot of Atlantic during those years as well. One other thing about Harry Garber. Most of the places he visited, he visited by water. You name it. Harry's been there. Attu, Kodiak, Kenai, Prince William Sound, Sitka, Puget Sound, California coast, Nantucket, Carolinas, Florida, Caribbean, and then compliments of WWII Auckland, Sydney, Salamaua, Lae, Hollandia, Biak, Negros, Panay, Biri, Capul, Mindoro, Guam, Kwajalein, Johnston, and Honolulu. Well, maybe he hasn't been everywhere. But it's closer than most of us will ever make it.

Harry is the sort of man that was the mainstay of the old survey. He mentions how lucky he was to have stumbled on the Coast and Geodetic Survey for a career but never stops to consider that we were lucky to have the likes of him before us. He served on the MIKAWE, RANGER, SURVEYOR, DISCOVERER, old EXPLORER, and GUIDE from 1928 to 1939 before he drew his first “shore” assignment. That was a hydrographic field party working out of Choctowatchee Bay, Florida. Harry must not have been too happy with this going home every night because in 1940 he was back to sea on the LYDONIA. Even the best of us get bored with hydrography so in 1941-1942 Harry went to the GILBERT to do some wire-drag up around Nantucket.

It was fortunate for Harry to be in Nantucket Sound in 1942 as this facilitated his entry into the United States Army as an Amphibian Engineer, 2nd Engineer Special Brigade, 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment as regimental navigator. The 542nd began training operations on Nantucket Sound with Harry training Army officers in navigation techniques. After stops for further training at Fort Ord, California, and Rockhampton, Australia, the 542nd began combat operations at Buna, New Guinea, in June, 1943, under General Douglas MacArthur. RADM Garber spent the next two years moving up New Guinea, in the Admiralty Islands, Dutch East Indies, and Philippines before being released back to the Coast and Geodetic Survey on July 23, 1945.

One of RADM Garber's most treasured possessions is a beautifully finished wooden box. Upon opening this box, one sees two bronze stars for gallantry in action, a map of the Pacific with eight red pins showing locations where Harry made combat landings, and a whole slew of blue pins showing locations where Harry landed on more friendly terms in the western Pacific. This box also contains the Regimental Flag of the 542nd, a hand woven blue and gold flag showing an outline of the portion of New Guinea around Lae and a stylized Corps of Engineers symbol showing anchor flukes instead of the standard castles. When asked about the bronze stars, Harry modestly replied that medals really meant a lot when awarded to the enlisted men and every staff officer in the Pacific got medals just for being there. A little more prodding led Harry to confess that, yes, he had been strafed while landing at Hollandia, had his landing craft machine-gunned while attempting to land at Biri, and had enemy troops throwing hand grenades at his craft while attempting to rescue a group of them in the water. None of these actions netted Harry a medal though. Harry Garber got his medals for doing what Coast and Geodetic Survey officers did best.

From February 19-22, 1945, “Lieutenant Colonel Garber served as navigator for the Detachment of the 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment participating in the North Samar, Capul, and Biri Islands operation. In this operation which extended over an area of one hundred miles of narrow, treacherous , inside straits, his skillful navigation, thorough knowledge of currents and sound judgment insured maximum efficiency in the operation of small boats and contributed materially to the success of the entire offensive.” He received a second Bronze Star for displaying “exceptional competence and resourcefulness in preparing a detailed plan for obtaining hydrographic data and conducting close-in soundings off the enemy held beach at Pulupandan, Negros, Philippine Islands, under extremely hazardous conditions. His skillfully tabulated information was of vital importance to the success of future amphibious landings; the charting of clearance over and channels through an offshore reef permitted early landings and facilitated the discharge of supplies. Through his conspicuous ability and devotion to duty, Commander Garber made a distinct contribution to the success of the liberation of the Philippine Islands.” Although the citation doesn't mention it, the Pulupandan survey was conducted under cover of darkness and the enemy on the beach was alerted to the survey boat's presence just as the mission was being completed.

A few comments on the above citations are in order. The change in rank from one citation to the next is explained by the fact that the first citation was written by an Army Major General within a month of the action cited, thus reference to Lieutenant Colonel Garber, while the second citation referring to Commander Garber was written by Admiral Struble, Commander, Seventh Amphibious Force, following RADM Garber's return to the Coast and Geodetic Survey. The survey at Pulupandan is noteworthy from the standpoint of hydrographic history as horizontal control for this survey was accomplished by anchoring a radar picket boat offshore from Harry's surveying vessel and using the radar in conjunction with radio communication to control the survey. This survey was very possibly the first ever conducted by a Coast and Geodetic Survey officer using a totally electronic navigation system. In response to a letter from Harry to C&GS headquarters in Washington mentioning the use of radar for vessel positioning, RADM Leo Otis Colbert, Director C&GS in a letter dated 19 May, 1945, responded:

“The experience our officers in the armed forces are getting in the use of radar in connection with hydrographic surveys will be invaluable to them upon their return to this service, as the prospect is that most of our charting in the future will be by such methods.”

RADM Garber's war ended on July 23, 1945, when he was released back to the Coast and Geodetic Survey. Harry didn't waste any time getting back to where he felt most comfortable. By August 1, 1945, he was assigned to the WESTDAHL conducting surveys at Sitka and then off the Columbia River. 1946-1947 saw him attached to the PATTON conducting surveys in the Aleutians and 1948-1949 on the DERICKSON in Prince William Sound. In 1950 he drew his second shore assignment since 1928, an Air Photo Party operating near Roanoke, North Carolina, and thence Atlantic City, NJ.

Harry never was one to do things in a little way. Following Photo Party work, he came to Washington, D.C., and cast out an anchor. For six years he was head of the Aeronautical Charting Division of C&GS. For his service during this period he received a Department of Commerce Meritorious Service Award for “outstanding national and international contributions in the development of aeronautical charts over a period of six years, thereby contributing immeasurably to safety in air navigation.” Captain Harry Garber retired in October, 1959, and was advanced to the rank of Rear Admiral on the retired list because of his military accomplishments in WWII.

What did RADM Garber like the best during his 32 years of tramping with the Coast Survey? Doing planetable topography, starting with a blank piece of paper and creating an image of the shoreline both as art and engineering for the safety of his fellow mariners. Much of Harry's work was original shoreline surveys in Alaska. The most gratifying thing for him was to see brand new charts with real shoreline surveyed by himself where dashed approximate lines had existed on the older chart editions. Besides, “I could watch the girls down the beach", says Harry with a sly grin. I suspect Henry Whiting, the greatest of the Coast and Geodetic Survey topographers, would have been impressed by Garber's work.

Of what was RADM Garber most proud during his long career? RADM Garber is not one to brag or make over his accomplishments but I feel that the thing of which he is most proud is helping the mariners and airmen of the world find safe passage by his work. In particular, Harry wrote up a report for headquarters about a rock that he discovered in Alaskan waters while on his last ship tour on the DERICKSON. This rock lies not far off a main steamer track and it was pure luck that no vessel had yet ripped out her bottom while slightly off course. To quote RADM Garber:

“.....In many cases, commercial and naval vessels have, of necessity, been the pathfinders rather than the followers into little known waters, and at times, have met disaster by striking unknown dangers. It is no comfort to ship's master, its crew, or its owners to have some rock named for their stricken vessel.

“It is to be hoped that by discovering and buoying this hidden danger to navigation, that it will be unnecessary to give it a multi-million dollar name in memory of some ill-fated vessel. How many more such unknown dangers exist?”

How many lives did Harry Garber save by finding that rock? How many millions of dollars worth of cargo did Harry keep from rusting on the bottom of Prince William Sound? We'll never know. Harry Garber's whole career was spent making sure that we would never know how many lives were lost for lack of an adequate chart.

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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